I write this letter to the Charleston RiverDogs event planning staff both frustrated and heavy-hearted regarding a special “event” that took place at your stadium on May 7, 2016.
On this night, your event staff hosted Micro or “Midget” Wrestling (as your pamphlet and radio ads worded it) as a part of your Saturday Night After-Show. My reason for addressing this with your staff is in no way to shame you or berate you, but to educate you on why hosting an event that exploits, objectifies and trivializes individuals with special needs for the entertainment of able-bodied people is both damaging to the reputation of your organization and to the disability community, particularly to those with dwarfism — a medical condition each of the wrestlers you hosted were born with. I hope my perspective will awaken you to how spectacles like this, as well as the use of the term “midget,” have a negative impact on the lives of people living with dwarfism and all who love them.
From the video of the event on your RiverDog Facebook page, I could tell that many of the men wrestling (or should I say “performing” for everyone’s amusement?) were born with a form of dwarfism known as achondroplasia. Achondroplasia is the most common form of dwarfism. It affects approximately 1 in 25,000 individuals and most people with this condition are born to parents that are of typical height/stature. It is a genetic disorder that occurs at random by altering the FGFR3 gene, which is one of many genes responsible for bone growth. For those with achondroplasia, this gene alteration causes their limbs to not grow as long as the typically developing person, as well as the skull to grow slightly larger than that of the typical person.
This medical condition is in no way a laughing matter, nor is it something that should stigmatize a human being for simply being born a certain way. Unfortunately, we live in a society that sees “different” as amusing when we should see it is beautiful. We live in a society that would rather run from, or in this case, laugh at what we don’t understand rather than seek to empathize with and truly know someone who appears to be “different” than us. The lives of people with dwarfism are affected daily by false media representation and misguided perceptions, which often mask the fact that dwarfism is a medical condition that, like any other, comes with both challenges and discomfort.
Many individuals with dwarfism (notice how I use proper person-first language when I phrase that), have endured countless operations to correct bowed legs, replace arthritic joints, lengthen limbs and more depending on the individual. Hilarious, right? On top of the physical discomfort and medical complications, individuals with dwarfism live in a world that is in no way designed for them. Simple daily tasks such as grocery shopping, pumping gas, climbing stairs and doing laundry can take a lot of effort and accommodation. Sounds like a lot for one individual to juggle, right? But there’s still more to mention. Even with all of those challenges, people born with dwarfism also face discrimination, social ostracization and ignorant mockery simply for being born with a skeleton that differs from that of a typical human being. Those with this condition are heavily marginalized, and somehow, it is still considered socially acceptable to view the condition as humorous, which has everything to do with a lack of education.
You may be wondering where my perspective of dwarfism stems from. I too was born with a form of dwarfism known as psuedoachondroplasia. Like achondroplasia, my condition is caused by a random gene alteration at conception. As a result, my arm and leg bones stopped growing at anearly age, the cartilage cushioning my hip and knee joints did not fully develop and my spine acquired severe scoliosis. I’ve endured dozens of surgeries including joint replacements and the straightening of my legs and spine.
Despite a childhood and young adulthood full of many physical and social challenges, acquiring dwarfism has proven to be a foundational contributor to the development of my compassionate heart and spirit. It has given me wisdom way beyond my years and insight into the human condition. Like so many others with dwarfism, I have led an accomplished and beautiful life. My condition has challenged me and empowered me to seek justice for those that are seen as “less,” whether it is because of their race, socio-economic status, ability, religion, gender or sexual orientation. I do not sell out because of my difference. Instead, I embrace my individuality, which then allows me to love and accept others exactly for who they are. I am an involved resident of Charleston, an educator, an artist/designer, a future mental health professional and an advocate. As an advocate of this marginalized group, it is my duty to address and shed light on instances like this that have a negative impact on my life and the lives of others with disabilities.
The negative implications of hosting a “midget wrestling” show at your stadium are as follows:
This event showed all of the young children watching it is OK to make fun of those who look different — in fact, it encouraged them to.
It taught everyone watching that dwarfism is a joke rather than a disability.
It advertised that the word “midget” is appropriate when describing a person with dwarfism. This word is highly derogatory towards those with dwarfism.
Finally, hiring this performance team encouraged this sort of spectacle to continue. I am fully aware this team was already traveling around the nation putting on similar shows. I plan on addressing them directly in another letter at another time. Even so, it was obvious from the team’s website that the company was exploiting people with dwarfism based on tag lines such as, “Book our midgets for your next event!” Seriously? Are you kidding me? How did at least one person on your staff see this and not have the slightest inkling it was wrong? Would it be funny if we threw another marginalized group into the arena based on their race or other identity? Wrestle with that. Pun intended.
You may have noticed this letter was written with a lot of emotion, and I have to tell you, it certainly was. When several of my colleagues brought this event of yours to my attention, my mind began to spin, and I felt my body consumed with shame, disgust and sadness. I thought to myself, “How is it 2016 and people with disabilities are still portrayed as circus freaks?” Just when I thought we were making headway as a society towards the acceptance of differences, your event reminded me just how far we have to go.
I am writing you all at Joe Riley Stadium to ask you to never hold an event like this in our city again. It is my genuine belief this event was meant to be nothing but amusing and lighthearted, but I can promise you it has already had its negative ripple effects. Even on social media, I witnessed members of the community commenting on the event video with “haha!” and tagging their friends who would also find the video hilarious. This city is home to several individuals with dwarfism, and I can guarantee you, someone in that audience loves someone with dwarfism and was left utterly downtrodden by what they witnessed. I have attended many of your games and would have been downright humiliated if I were in attendance that night.
Once again, it is not my intent to berate you or even taint the RiverDog name. You all are a wonderful organization that has brought this city so much joy. I realize this is a widely misunderstood scenario, and I firmly believe we don’t know what we don’t know. I hope my perspective will cause you to consider everyone you serve, and understand the consequences of your decisions. It is possible to hold entertaining events that do not hold this sort of weight for certain groups of people, and I encourage you all to continue serving our community through fun that is inclusive to all.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
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